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LDL Cholesterol

Does this test have other names?

Low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, LDL-C

What is this test?

This test measures the amount of low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C) in your blood.

LDL cholesterol is often called "bad" cholesterol because it causes plaque to build up inside your arteries and leads to heart disease.

Cholesterol screening is recommended for all adults ages 20 and older every 4 to 6 years. LDL cholesterol is one of a group of lipoproteins that can indicate heart disease, so this test is used to help diagnose it.

Lowering LDL-C levels can help prevent heart disease.

Why do I need this test?

You may need this test as part of a routine exam to check for high cholesterol.

You may also have this test if you already have heart disease caused by high cholesterol. The test can help your healthcare provider find out how well your treatment is working.

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Your healthcare provider may also order other blood tests to measure the levels of various fats in your blood. These include:

  • Total cholesterol

  • Triglycerides

  • High-density lipoprotein, or HDL

What do my test results mean?

Test results may vary depending on your age, gender, health history, the method used for the test, and other things. Your test results may not mean you have a problem. Ask your healthcare provider what your test results mean for you. 

Results are given in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). The normal range of LDL-C is 50 to 130 mg/dL. A level below 70 mg/dL is considered best for people who have diabetes or heart disease risk factors. In general:

  • Less than 100 is optimal

  • 100 to 129 mg/dL is near or just above optimal

  • 130 to 159 mg/dL is borderline high

  • 160 to 189 mg/dL is high

  • 190 mg/dL and over is very high

It's possible to have extremely low levels of LDL-C, but this is rare. This condition is usually a sign of a problem processing vitamins A, D, E, and K.

If your levels of LDL-C are high, the condition is called dyslipidemia. High levels may mean that you have an imbalance in your diet, but the condition is often hereditary. Changing your lifestyle habits and taking medicines to reduce LDL levels may help you lower the risk for heart disease and manage the condition if you already have it.

How is this test done?

The test is done with a blood sample. A needle is used to draw blood from a vein in your arm or hand. 

Does this test pose any risks?

Having a blood test with a needle carries some risks. These include bleeding, infection, bruising, and feeling lightheaded. When the needle pricks your arm or hand, you may feel a slight sting or pain. Afterward, the site may be sore. 

What might affect my test results?

Smoking cigarettes can increase LDL-C levels. Stress, certain minor ailments, and some medicines can also affect your results.

How do I get ready for this test?

Testing of your cholesterol level does not need fasting in most cases, but your healthcare provider may ask you to not eat or drink anything but water for a certain time before having the test. Be sure your healthcare provider knows about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that don't need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Haldeman-Englert, Chad, MD
Last Review Date: 10/1/2017
© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.